Kurt Vonnegut's “8 rules of writing a short story” are good rules for writing anything.

Written by Cole Schafer


When I was in seventh grade I read a short story about a fourteen-year-old boy named Harrison Bergeron living in an alternate future where everyone is equal (because they were hindered to be equal).

If you were too good looking your eyebrows were shaved. If you were too strong you wore bags around your waist filled with lead balls. If you were too intelligent you received a deafening buzz alarm in your ear anytime your thoughts reached a specific frequency.

Harrison Bergeron was an anomaly.

He was as strong as an ox, he stood a towering seven-foot-tall and he was so good looking that he “would have awed Thor, the god of thunder”.

I’m not going to tell you anymore and risk ruining the story for you. But, what I will tell you is that it was written by the legendary science fiction writer Kurt Vonnegut and it was one of the first pieces of writing that made me fall in love with reading.

Vonnegut was a masterful storyteller and while he wrote countless novels, he very much excelled at the short story.

Once upon a time, he gave advice on how to write a short story well; advice I’ve shared down below.

Vonnegut’s 8 rules of writing a short story.

  1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
  2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
  3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
  4. Every sentence must do one of two things—reveal character or advance the action.
  5. Start as close to the end as possible.
  6. Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them-in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
  7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
  8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To hell with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

By Cole Schafer (but mostly Kurt Vonnegut).

P.S. If you haven’t read Harrison Bergeron by Kurt Vonnegut, you should do so here.